What is a Successful Adoption Reunion?

Adoptees searching for reunions

After The First Hugs, What Gives an Adoption Reunion Staying Power?

Let’s face it ; we all love a good adoption reunion story. The media loves a reunion story. Most people off the street love a reunion story. In AdoptionLand, we especially enjoy hearing that another family separated by adoption has managed to beat the industry rules and find their way home. We marvel at the similarities and “near misses”. We get teary eyed seeing the cries of joy and the airport hugs. Yet, what happens after that first contact, that first find, that first phone call, that first hug is really where the determination of “success” comes into play.

So what does an adoption reunion look like when it works?

Adoption Reunions Mean Different Things to Different People

Personally I think it’s really hard to spell out precisely what a “successful” reunion looks like. What might be perfect for one set of people might be completely intolerable for another. Maybe for some folks it looks like a complete mend of the adoption separation. I know families where the adoptee is able to be “adopted back” to the original family. I know of families where they adoptee has moved back into the family home. I know of families where the adoptive family and the birth family have completely melded together into one big happy blended love fest. I know other families where there was contact and the contact was good, but now they basically keep in touch on birthdays and holidays and are happy. So there are no hard and fast rules for what a successful adoption reunion should look like, the key thing, I believe, is that it works for the parties involved. The key here is BOTH parties.

It doesn’t mean that one person calls all the shots and the other person is left waiting and wondering.  It doesn’t mean that one side is demanding and the other side complacent. It doesn’t mean that one side is content and the other side is wanting more or putting up with too much.

A successful adoption reunion means that both parties are able to have what works for them most of the time and when it doesn’t work they can be open and honest about the negative feelings without worrying that the whole relationship is going to get taken away from them ( too much.. it’s unrealistic to say that anyone ever really feels 100% secure!).

A successful adoption reunion means that there is room to grow and mature as the relationships grows in trust and mutual understanding. It’s a big compromise, a dance, where both parties are willing to do what they can to make it work.

A successful adoption reunion meets the needs of both parties equally with each member carrying as equal loads of fear, insecurity, worries, etc.

No One Knows What to Expect

After rejection, one of the biggest fear of reunion contact  I see is the worry that one person wants more than the other.  Part of that is definitely fed by media horror stories or even personal stories where  one party is possibly relentless demanded contact, or the feared “asking for money”, or just being overwhelming. Personally, I think these fears are human in nature and quite universal.  People do not want to get involved in things that they fear might be more demanding than they are willing to give. There is a natural fear that we can’t live up to  expectations and really don’t want to disappoint an other. Think about the natural trepidation when asked to help do anything whether it’s a PTA meeting, helping a friend move, or a new job. We worry that we might not be able to do what is required, or even want to do what is asked of us, and sometimes, it feels safer to say no.

With an adoption reunion, just like anything, but especially before one even knows who is on the other end of the search, the job description of this new role you might find yourself taking on is nonexistent. It would be a heck of a lot easier if non identifying adoption information or adoption search registries had clear expectations  of reunions built in:

  • Birthmother in Search of Son Adopted: Never had any other children and really looking forward to possible grandkids. Will fly all to Disney World, but only if you are into that.  I might try to buy back your love out of guilt.
  • Adopted Female searching for Birth Family: I really only need to know my medical information  and am very scared of actually letting new people into my life. I tend to be a control freak and will need to take the lead if, and only if, you fit the ideal of what I am looking for.
  • Adopted Male Desperate to Find Birthmother:  Unhappy about adoption placement and longing for what I missed. I am ready to move back into your basement, but I have a big laundry basket full of issues and want you completely involved in my drama.
  • Birthmother looking for daughter:  Been crying for 30 years and hope you can dry my tears. I need someone to save me. I’m not healthy and not rich but will call you constantly about everything and get rather annoyed when you don’t drop everything to come to my calls. If you ever choose your adoptive family over me, I will be angry and hurt.

Granted, I suppose if that happened then people might be even less likely to make contact. Now I purposely made up some bad scenarios here and these pretend folks have obvious adoption baggage. The fact is we all pretty much do, even if we are not aware of the full impact.  It’s  kind of safe to say that most people don’t really go into an adoption reunion aware of their possible issues. It’s like a surprise. You don’t know what’s in the box until you take off the wrapping paper. (yes, that was another horrible adoption equals gift analogy!)

But it is also, I think, safe to say that the same” bad” situations listed above, might work for some people. The key, I think,  like any relationship, is that both parties mesh.

The Ties of Blood and Biology

Sometimes, it seems like that happens naturally. Perhaps it is due to similar personality traits between biological family members. There is a natural tendency to view things the same way, to see relationships with a similar viewpoint, to meet new situations with a recognizable attitude.

In my own reunion with Max, almost ten years after I have first found him, I do chalk up much of our ease with everything due to an innate “sameness”. I mean, I knew him before I knew him. I naturally understood and “got” him because we approach things in a very similar way. He is a willful, strong minded, rebellious, non conformist,  goofy, kind , confident freak.  I knew all that from seeing his MySpace page and first hearing that he kept a rubber chicken in his briefcase that he brought to high school. I had no doubt then, before we ever spoke, that the genetics shaped who he was and I would recognize my own blood.

But other times, perhaps the genetic residue is only that, thin lines of DNA that cannot withstand the change of scenery. Not all blood lines are strong. Not everything gets passed down. Even in families that are raised together without adoption separation, there are family member that don’t fit in or are throw backs or black sheep. Maybe the person at the end of your adoption search looks like you, but doesn’t think like you or feel things like you.  It doesn’t mean that things are doomed to fail, it just means that you might need to work a bit more to make it happen. A bit more understanding and compromise.

Add in Adoption Separation

And then, we do have to add in the affects of adoption.

If you are the original family, then there is a good chance that the adoptee was not raised in the same environment or with the same values and life experiences. If you are the adoptee, then there are good changes that your original family has had different experiences as well. That’s the easy stuff!

Then we can have an adoptee who might or might not have known or unknown levels of the “Primal Wound”  and an original family who might or might not have dealt with the loss of the adoptee over the years. Both, either, or neither could have started preparing, might have done research, maybe had therapy or support or might not have a clue about adoption at all. If either party has zero support or tools or unresolved adoption damage/ trauma, then the only touch point they have for a reunion is pure emotion . For anyone the emotions of an adoption reunion are all over the place, so they really aren’t not a good guide at all. Of course, one party being prepared and the other party being all over the place doesn’t always work either. It’s very hard to be the support or therapist in a relationship that you are part in. It’s like getting in a fight with your best friend and then you can’t go to that best friend to vent about them and figure out what to do next! The best we can sometimes do for the other party is point them in the direction of peer support and hope they take that advise. Then we have to make sure we stay on the healthy high road and not get dragged into the drama!

Timing Hurdles

The other important factor to think about is timing in regards to preparation. Usually, one party in an adoption reunion is the “searcher” and the other party has been “found”.

For the most part, the person who has searched has a measure of control over the situation. They have thought about it for a while, waited until they felt ready, initiated the contact, and probably had some time to at least begin processing emotions, imagining what they might feel and think and do, while the search went on. Sometimes, they might have three days, sometimes they might have 30 years to prepare, but they still are the one who made it happen.

In the same vein, the “foundee” might or might not have also begun searching. Maybe they have thought about it, but didn’t make it a priority yet. Maybe they planned on doing so at a later date. Maybe they haven’t given it much thought at all. Maybe they never thought they even could start searching. Maybe they were trying their best to “never think about it again” or were pretty convinced that “adoption doesn’t affect me.”

My overall observations  have lead me to believe that if an adoptee doesn’t start searching right around 18, then they often wait until they are in their 30’s and have had their own children. Sometimes, adoptee loyalty keeps them from looking at all until one of both of their adoptive parents pass. And in all cases, the search itself can take years.

On the other side, many birthmothers, especially older BSE moms, are taught that they cannot search. Whether it is the actual relinquishment and surrender consent forms that clearly stated that they “will never interfere” or just the generic “Birthmother Rules”  that say  “wait for your adoptee and be there when they are ready”, many moms do not search believing that they don’t want to disrupt or upset the adoptee, or still carry over the shame and feelings of unworthiness. If you were not good enough to raise your baby, it can sometimes be hard to understand that you are good enough to search and be found. Again, adoption support and education can help eliminate some of these feelings that were instilled by the adoption industry.

In any case, the searcher needs to be aware that they might have anxiously been looking forward and praying for this day to come, while the other party might be completely shell shocked when first contacted. What the searcher has been living and feeling these emotions for years, might be rushing forth from the foundee all at once.  Allowing  a “grace period” to regain some equilibrium and allowing time for the foundee to catch up emotionally to the searcher is good to remember.

Great. All I have done so far is listed more unknown values and I bet this hasn’t helped define anything positive at all!

What Works in an Adoption Reunion?

Understanding, Patience, Hope, Openness, Honesty, Support, Trust, Realism, Self Awareness, Acceptance, Validation, Acknowledgment  and a willingness to work. Doesn’t that sound pretty?

Again, it is the same basic values that are needed in any good relationship; a friendship, a marriage, a work environment.  I often like to measure a reunion related question with comparison to a regular relationship.  It’s like a mental check point: what would I say if this person was my sister, or my spouse or my friend? How would I interpret their actions? What would I say normally in response? Of course, that is easier said than done BECAUSE the other person is known, but we are talking about after the initial reunion contact here, after the first impressions. At some point, we have to begin to be real and show ourselves, even if it means letting go of the fear that the other party will find fault with who we really are.  That’s hard enough in regular relationships when people are confident, self assured and have positive self esteem. Adoption tends to be a self worth, self esteem vampire for all at times or a create a need for control at other times.  Did I mention that we need to be self aware of our own issues yet?

So, while I can’t claim to be an “expert” on this. I do get asked a lot for advice and suggestions. I have noticed that I tend to say the same things over and over again and people seem to like it. I was going to go into more of the tools that can be used in a reunion, but I think this is enough for today and I’ll do that tomorrow!  Please add your opinions! Share what you think!

Here’s Other Posts About Adoption Reunion Issues:

please free free to add you own or other links you found helpful:

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Adoption Reunions: Secondary Rejections & Why Things Go Wrong

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About the Author

Claudia Corrigan DArcy
Claudia Corrigan D’Arcy has been online and involved in the adoption community since early in 2001. Blogging since 2005, her website Musings of the Lame has become a much needed road map for many mothers who relinquished, adoptees who long to be heard, and adoptive parents who seek understanding. She is also an activist and avid supporter of Adoptee Rights and fights for nationwide birth certificate access for all adoptees with the Adoptee Rights Coalition. Besides here on Musings of the Lame, her writings on adoption issue have been published in The New York Times, BlogHer, Divine Caroline, Adoption Today Magazine, Adoption Constellation Magazine, Adopt-a-tude.com, Lost Mothers, Grown in my Heart, Adoption Voice Magazine, and many others. She has been interviewed by Dan Rather, Montel Williams and appeared on Huffington Post regarding adoption as well as presented at various adoption conferences, other radio and print interviews over the years. She resides in New York’s Hudson Valley with her husband, Rye, children, and various pets.

9 Comments on "What is a Successful Adoption Reunion?"

  1. skoruppi88 | July 23, 2013 at 5:30 pm |

    It appears that successful adoption = failed reunion. My son and I met three times in five months. Lots of I Love You, I miss you, I can’t let you go again (mutually said), yet it’s been two years since I last heard from him. I wish I knew what I did wrong. Nope, I don’t think I smothered him at all, but I let him know that I knew his parents loved him very much (what else was I supposed to say?) I made sure not an ill word came from my mouth about them all while answering his questions about what happened and letting him know I wasn’t going anywhere, my door is always open. Today, I could kick myself for what I did wrong during those meetings. Thing is, I don’t know what I did or said wrong. All this time passed without a word. I suppose I get what I deserve, even though it feels unfair, because I had begged for help, knowing while I was still pregnant that if I lost my newborn son it would kill me. I don’t expect to ever see my son again. It’s a nice feeling when I hear about others’ successful reunions, and if both parties are in communication, then that’s a successful reunion. Anything extra is cream. 🙂

    • Kathy Johnsonq | July 23, 2013 at 6:33 pm |

      That’s tough….but from this adoptee… here’s some tools to help you heal from this beating yourself up….. which is a speciality especially in the Land of Adoption….. it is such a complex feeling that your son doesn’t likely know himself….an ambivalence beyond words…. run toward run away….run toward run away… it took me so little time to find who my natural mother was….. and years to confirm it…. add in adoptive parents that he might love or might not yet feels a loyalty to….and obligation…. he is probably so confused….but no doubt he loves you…. the two of you will find your pace… and how much you will connect … reunion is not the end … it’s the beginning… consider sending him a note …..simple, perhaps … wanted to say’hi’….. so he knows you think of him…. work on your feelings and let him work on his…. it’s never over….

    • zygotepariah | August 16, 2013 at 11:08 pm |

      “I suppose I get what I deserve”. This comment breaks my heart. I am a 1971 adoptee. For the record I did not have a good adoption. But, please, hear me when I say: NO! You did not deserve that. It sounds to me like your son has some things he needs to address first.

      I know that of which I speak. I reunited with my parents in 1997. I’m just going to say it was complicated. After three years I walked away. I just couldn’t deal. My mother was sadly a lost cause, but my father, who hadn’t even known about me, sent cards for years. I ignored them.

      Since then, I’ve read everything I could about adoption, first parents, the Baby Scoop Era, everything. I also had some realizations to admit about certain things.

      I’d been thinking for a while about reconnecting with my father when I got a Facebook friend request from him. So 13 years later we’re trying again.

      My father thought the end of out last reunion was his fault. I listened to him as he talked about 13 years’ worth of guilt. At the end, I asked him “What more could you have done? You couldn’t reason with a stone. I had to realize things on my own. There was nothing you could have done”.

      I gently address the above to you. My father told me he always thought that one day I would see things differently. He was right. It took, and is taking, a lot of work. And even though our re-reunion could not be going better had it been scripted, there is still just so much pain. But I’m not running away again. I’m so sorry you’re going through this with your son. But never stop reaching out. One day I hope he might see things differently, too.

  2. Buck Wheat | July 23, 2013 at 11:42 pm |

    “No one knows what to expect”. I strongly disagree. I believe there are consistent and reasonable expectations. Wish we explained more on what to expect before we blindly reunite people and set them up for failure. I really hope this helps and welcome feedback on what could be included as a reasonable expectation.


    My definition of a good reunion is pretty basic. In a good reunion both acknowledge their own and ‘other’s’ pain on their own schedule. Both have respect, empathy, patience and compassion. I’m in a good reunion by my standards. Everyone has their own measure.

    • Thank you! That’s a super fabulous list! And yes those expectations are completely true! I added it to the “Listly” list that I am suing here to connect with the other posts and conversations rather than just keeping a list of posts here. This way I hop that others can add helpful posts or stories or article they have found. Wouldn’t it be great to have a bunch of Adoption reunion advice in one spot?

  3. A nice spammy commenter | August 4, 2013 at 3:54 pm |

    I’m impressed, I have to admit. Rarely do I come across a blog that’s equally educative and entertaining, and let me tell you, you have hit the nail on the head. The issue is an issue that not enough folks are speaking intelligently about. I’m very happy I stumbled across this during my search for something relating to this.

  4. Good post. I absolutely love this site. Stick with it!

  5. bookmarked!!, I love your blog!

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